In this sequel, the G.I. Joes are not only fighting their mortal enemy Cobra; they are forced to contend with threats from within the government that jeopardize their very existence.
For everyone who rolled their eyes even as they were secretly digging 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra as a guilty pleasure (not to mention giving it big box-office clout), this rejiggered sequel will probably prove irresistible. Hasbro and Hollywood have successfully created a franchise based on toy action figures that were introduced almost 50 years ago, now featuring all the guns, glory, and apocalyptic politics of the modern age. Along with that come the heights of preposterous circumstances and childish fantasy that any $200-plus million action movie requires. The video game quality and action figure/comic book childishness notwithstanding, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is anything but childlike with its incalculable body count, physical carnage, and extreme fetishization of violence and techno armaments. Feeling cocky from their vanquishing the evil Cobra organization in the first movie, the Joes are all the more ready to save the world from itself, making clandestine forays into North Korea and Pakistan with deadly precision. (The dizzying assault on a Pakistani weapons base is genuinely spectacular.) What they don't know is that Cobra has been lying in wait, and that the free world's Commander in Chief (Jonathan Pryce, having a fine time) is being impersonated by the nefarious Cobra operative Zartan (Arnold Vosloo). In the guise of a benevolent leader seeking world nuclear disarmament, "President" Zartan discredits and wipes out all but three of the Joe force. Fortunately Dwayne Johnson is among them, and every moviegoer knows he's pretty much an army of one. The script is so whiz-bang fast and full of impossibly extravagant CGI-enhanced eye-poppery that any synopsis would be akin to, well, 10-year-olds smashing three-inch action figures into each other and making up a narrative to go along with their guttural sound effects. And isn't that a pretty good description of escapism? Mention must be made of an incredible sustained set piece staged on sheer Himalayan cliffs where sword-wielding ninjas soar on ropes in an elaborate choreography that is as inventive as it is thrilling. The finale explodes at historic Fort Sumter, of all places, where the faceless Cobra Commander showdowns with the revivified Joes during "The President's" bogus disarmament summit. The cast is adequate in portraying good or bad real-life action figures with funny names and unbreakable bodies. Bruce Willis seems very happy chomping in to a glorified cameo as the retired Joe commander. Though the Joes carry the day and glory can be claimed, it should be noted that a sequel is teed up perfectly, especially in light of the fact that Cobra pretty much succeeds in its world-domination plan by obliterating the whole of London and its eight million inhabitants. It is the most extreme of money shots, rendered with loving detail; but don't worry, kids, it's only a movie. --Ted Fry